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Helping Teens With LD Develop a Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle

Learn why many teens with learning disabilities and AD/HD struggle to achieve a healthy, balanced life.

By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.

We all want our children to grow up to have a healthy lifestyle, wherein they maintain personal hygiene and good grooming, eat a nutritious diet, take care of medical and dental needs, and fill their leisure time with enough exercise and personal interests to create balance and quality of life.  Adults with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) often face challenges as they juggle the many components of healthy living. This article will describe some of the challenges they face and will offer parents of middle and high school children with LD or AD/HD strategies to foster development in this important area.

Personal Hygiene and Good Grooming

The table below illustrates how various characteristics of LD and AD/HD can present challenges to practicing personal hygiene and good grooming.

Learning or Attention Problem

Challenges to Hygiene and Grooming

Visual discrimination

Difficulty coordinating one's clothing (e.g., complementary colors, patterns, and styles)

Fine-motor coordination (ability to use one's hands and fingers effectively)

Problems tying a necktie; shaving without nicking skin; applying makeup; and styling hair

Spatial perception

Difficulty being thorough when shaving; problems turning faucets to the desired temperature when bathing/showering

Tactile defensiveness (over- or under-sensitivity to touch)

Trouble tolerating the irritation of having one's hair cut, the scratchiness of labels on clothing, and the seams inside socks


Tendency to become distracted and forget certain steps in personal hygiene (e.g., applying deodorant)

Tips for Teaching Your Teen about Hygiene and Grooming

Teen magazines feature articles about hygiene and grooming every month. If your child with LD or AD/HD shows an interest, help her select a few magazines with relevant articles, and discuss how she can use the tips they offer.  Additional ideas to help you foster development of good hygiene and grooming are listed below:

  • By early middle school, show your teen how to attend to personal hygiene,and explain the pros and cons of various products. By high school teens should regularlypurchase the products they prefer (e.g., razors, deodorant, shampoo, tampons) within an agreed-upon budget.
  • If you have a tactile-defensive teen, encourage her to maintain a hairstyle that is easy to cut and style, with a minimum of fussing and irritation. Enlist a trustworthy barber or hairdresser.
  • Buy an electric razor for your son with fine-motor problems or spatial difficulties, and encourage him to double check with his fingers to make sure he has fully shaved the intended territory.
  • Buy light-colored lipstick or gloss for your daughter with fine-motor or spatial difficulties, and explain that she will find it's easier to correct makeup "mistakes" with these products. 
  • If your teen has visual discrimination problems, encourage her to enlist a friend or relative to act as a "clothing advisor." Luckily, in today's fashion scene, almost anything goes!Even so,help your teen shop for garments that mix and match easily. A chart of matching outfits is helpful as well.
  • Encourage your child to keep her morning routine simple and allow ample time for hygiene and grooming. Some find it easier to shower and set out clothing the night before school or work.
  • Have your teen follow weather forecasts each night and lay out clothes and accessories appropriate for the next day's conditions.

Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D., an expert on transition issues in special education, is a Professor at Lesley University, where she served as founding director of Threshold, a transition program for young adults with learning disabilities, from 1981 to 1996. She has served on the professional advisory boards of several national LD organizations and maintains a private practice in psychology.

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